The private school 80 miles southeast of Louisville, Ky., went from 18-35 in 2017 to 20-22 in 2018 to 24-22 in 2019 to 14-4 in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season with Manny Cervantes as head coach.
In 2018, the Eagles lost many pitchers and position players to injury and still had a chance to be one of the six teams in the River States Conference tournament.
Asbury was hot and cold in the first half of 2019. After being swept in a three-game series with Cincinnati Christian University, the team re-focused and went 15-9 the rest of the way with the Eagles’ first-ever series win at Indiana University Southeast.
Before 2020 was cut short, Asbury won 11 of its last 13 games.
Cervantes brought Brandon Mattingly on board as Asbury as pitching coach in ’17 and the team earned run average has shrank each year from 6.68 to 5.78 to 4.28 to 2.47.
Mattingly, 35, has earned a reputation as a pitching instructor and top-flight recruiter.
In 1998, Mattingly played for a team — St. Matthews American — that came one game from making the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
An injury to the right-hander kept him from getting into a game for the Boilermakers and Mattingly moved on from the game and transferred to Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette and received an Associate of Arts degree then moved back to Louisville.
Mattingly was studying Political Science and in the Pre-Law honors program at the University of Louisville when he shifted and started his own real estate title business. He now works as a title examiner, doing a lot of jobs with Sutton Real Estate.
He stumbled into the opportunity to coach with the Vipers Baseball Club travel organization and was with 18U and 17U teams in 2014 and 2015.
“Barry Pennybaker gave me the opportunity to work with pitchers,” says Mattingly. “I built a rapport with those young men quickly.”
Mattingly was later made the main pitching coach for 16U through 18U Vipers.
It was while coaching the Vipers in a summer tournament hosted by Asbury in 2016 that Mattingly met Cervantes.
“He let me know that his pitching coach had just moved on,” says Mattingly. “He told me his vision of building into the top team in the region.”
Cervantes encouraged Mattingly to apply for the position.
“He was very gracious in allowing me that opportunity,” says Mattingly of Cervantes. “He spoke highly of me to board members and the athletic director. He put himself on the line for me.
“I had no experience coaching college baseball.”
Mattingly does not regret his decision.
“This is a place I belong,” says Mattingly. “They have allowed me to come into their world and be involved with some of the best people I’ve ever met.
“It’s important to me that I’m able to express how grateful I am to be at Asbury.”
Mattingly started at Asbury in the fall of 2016.
“We had talented young men on the roster, but not as much depth as other schools,” says Mattingly. “We were still shifting the culture to winning while reflecting God’s grace.”
With hunger for championships, Mattingly began using his relationships built through the Vipers to bring in student-athletes that could have an immediate impact for the Eagles.
“We made it pretty clear pretty quickly that we were going to be a player in recruiting baseball talent,” says Mattingly. “The ability to develop relationships with younger players gave us a leg up.”
Not as stringent as the NCAA recruiting calendar, the NAIA allows for this.
“Developing relationships is the priority,” says Mattingly. “You get a lot of opportunities to talk with these young men and their parents.
Mattingly lets them know they are interest in them as an athlete, student and a child of God.
“We treat them with respect,” says Mattingly.
Besides Asbury, baseball-playing schools in the River States Conference are Alice Lloyd College (Pippa Passes, Ky.), Brescia University (Owensboro, Ky.), Indiana University Kokomo (Ind.), Indiana University Southeast (New Albany, Ind.), Midway (Ky.) University, Oakland City (Ind.), University, Ohio Christian University (Circleville, Ohio), Point Park University (Pittsburgh, Pa.), University of Rio Grande (Ohio) and West Virginia University Institute of Technology (Beckley, W.Va.).
Among others in the area are the University of the Cumberlands (Williamsburg, Ky.), Campbellsville (Ky.) University, Georgetown (Ky.) College, Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Ky.), University of Pikeville (Ky.) and Thomas More University (Crestview Hills, Ky.).
“Eyes pay attention to this part of the country,” says Mattingly. “We want to make dents in those recruiting classes.”
Granted an extra year of eligibility, four Kentucky-bred seniors — right-hander Will McDonald, left fielder Colton Back, first baseman/designated hitter C.J. Compton and righty reliever Austin Jennings — decided to come back for a fifth year in 2021. McDonald is the ace of the pitching staff and joins back Back as a second-year team captain.
First baseman Paul Haupt and center fielder Garrett McIntire — a pair of juniors — can track their relationship with Brandon back to the Vipers.
Mattingly has also been pitching coach for the Ohio Valley League’s Henderson (Ky.) Flash since 2017 (minus the canceled 2020 season) and has built relationships with coaches and players in the southern part of Indiana.
He has been bringing baseball knowledge to Bronchos ever since.
McTagertt played for head coach Mark Strader and served on the staffs of Tony Primavera, Ed Gilliland and Kevin Maxwell before taking the reins of the Lafayette Jeff program for the 2008 season.
“(Strader) is probably the best athlete that ever came through Lafayette Jeff,” says McTagertt. “He was very demanding. We respected the guy because you knew what he knew in baseball.
“We put so much intensity into practice. (Strader) got (to play for and) coach with (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul) “Spider” Fields. (Strader) brought some of that fire to us.”
A shortstop and pitcher at Jeff, McTagertt was on the Purdue team for one season behind future big leaguer Archi Cianfrocco while working toward what would be an Education degree from Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI).
As a young coach, McTagertt marveled at Primavera’s game management skills.
“I don’t know if there was anybody better than him,” says McTagertt. “He knew everything in the game was going to happen before it happened.
“He was fun to learn from.”
Gilliland had played for and coached with IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber at LaPorte High School.
“(Gilliland) was a disciplinarian,” says McTagertt. “This is the way we’re going to do it. He had set routines. The kids worked hard for him.
“He liked to ride his top two pitchers a lot. It was the LaPorte Way.”
In a decade with Maxwell, McTagertt witnessed a strong organizer.
“(Maxwell) ran very structured practices,” says McTagertt. “Everything was written out. The kids had to know the practice plan.”
Along the way, McTagertt has continued to have a growth mindset. He has learned much about the game from networking, attending clinics and — in this pandemic year of 2020 — Zoom meetings and other online resources.
“We’re probably the most sharing group of coaches you’re going to find in any sport,” says McTagertt. “Tthere are so many ways to teach in baseball.
“You can always steal an idea or two.”
McTagertt was born in Greenwood, Ind., and came to Lafayette as a fourth grader. That first day in town he attended the Colt World Series at Loeb Stadium.
“It was a big place for my family,” says McTagertt, who started working at Loeb in 1988 and did so until the facility dedicated in 1940 was torn down to make way for the New Loeb Stadium.
“I didn’t know if I’d ever see this place,” says McTagertt. “It’s absolutely gorgeous.”
With construction of the new Loeb (also home to the summer collegiate Lafayette Aviators), Jeff was going to spend much of 2020 playing road games. But the COVID-19 pandemic took away the season. The Bronchos were just days away from tryouts when what became lockdown began. Individual workouts were distributed via computer.
In fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period practice, the focus was on individual skills and position development.
“We put a premium on teaching since we lost a season,” says McTagertt, who sent the Bronchos from the World Series to the weight room until Dec. 22 and expects to resume activities Jan. 4.
McTagertt’s 2021 coaching staff features John Ripke, Alex Igo and Sean McDonald as varsity assistants. Kevin Igo is the JV Red head coach and is helped by Brian McDonald and Matthew Koeppen. Tim Whitaker is the JV Black (or C-team) head coach and is aided by Daniel Nelson.
The Bronchos tend to have around 40 players in the program. On days when all three squads are in action, there might be 13 to 15 with the varsity, 13 with JV Red and the rest with JV Black.
The Bronchos are in an IHSAA Class 4A grouping with Harrison, Kokomo, Logansport and McCutcheon. Jeff won the last of its 17 sectional titles in 2013. The program has also claimed 12 regionals, four semistates, two state championships (1969 and 1973) and one state runner-up (1971).
For years, Jeff and Lafayette Central Catholic developed young players through the Lafayette Lightning.
About eight years ago — wanting to get more Jeff-bound youngsters involved in competitive play — Junior Broncho Baseball was established. The group fielded 10U, 11U and 12U teams that first year and now has teams from 8U to 15U.
That first 12U team were freshmen in the spring of 2020.
“There’s a wonderful working relationship city, parks department and baseball programs in Lafayette,” says McTagertt.
Scott and Fawn McTagertt (a McCutcheon High School teacher) have three children. Rileigh McTagertt is a junior Education major at Purdue who coaches tennis at Tecumseh Junior High School in Lafayette. She was in cheerleading, basketball and tennis at Jeff.
Ashlynn McTagertt played golf, basketball and softball for the Bronchos and is now a freshmen softball player at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College.
Drew McTagertt is a Tecumseh eighth grader who plays tennis, basketball and baseball.
He is a four-time IHSBCA district and five-time Hoosier Hills Conference coach of the year.
McIntyre has coached 13 IHSBCA South All-Stars, more than 40 players who have gone on to play college baseball with three players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and two big leaguers.
Chris, a high school math teacher at New Albany, and wife Shannon have two sons — Tyler and Kevin.
Umpire Robinson is a graduated of Harry E. Wood High School in Indianapolis and Indiana University Kokomo. He played one year of high school baseball and started umpiring high school games in 1980 and enjoyed a 35-year career.
Robinson worked 33 sectionals. 25 regionals, 14 semistates and six state championships. He worked six IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series and was named an IHSBCA Umpire of the Year five times.
In 1994, Robinson was elected to the National Federation Baseball Rules Committee and served from 1995-1998.
In 2002, he was named IHSAA/NFOA Baseball Official of the Year and he was named as the National Federation Distinguished Official of the Year. James coached Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball for 10 years.
Robinson has been a high school and college referee in football. He worked six years in NCAA Division II and seven years in the Mid-American Conference.
He has also refereed the state basketball finals and the state football finals. Later in his career, he became a replay official for the MAC and then moved to the Big Ten. He was a replay official in the National Championship game in 2014 at the Rose Bowl between Florida State and Auburn.
Robinson has served on the Howard County Sports Hall of Fame board of directors.
James and his wife Nada (deceased) have one daughter and a grandson: Chiquita and Kameron.
Allen played his collegiate baseball at Purdue University, where he was twice named team MVP.
A winner of six varsity letters, Allen was also the quarterback and the MVP of the 1960 football team, helping the Boilers to win over No. 1 Minnesota, No. 12 Notre Dame as well as Ohio State. He out-dueled Fran Tarkenton in the annual Blue-Gray Game.
Allen was an All-American shortstop for Purdue in 1961 and signed with the Minnesota Twins.
A second baseman for most of his pro career, the 6-foot-185-pounder played in more than 1,100 Major League Baseball games for the Twins (making his debut in 1962), Washington Senators, New York Yankees and Montreal Expos.
After his playing career, Allen moved back to his native Liverpool, Ohio — the Pottery Capital of the World — and worked for Ferro Corp. for 17 years.
He moved to Carmel, Ind., in the mid 1980s and has never left. Allen, who has been married for 51 years and has one son, three daughters, a step-son, a step-daughter, 16 total grandchildren and three great grandkids.
Through hills and valleys, the right-handed pitcher persisted and persevered until he finally stood on a major league mound at 28 and its those kind of lessons he passes along to the next generation with his baseball/softball business — Demand Command.
McClellan, who stands 6-foot-5, earned three letters at Indiana University (1998, 1999 and 2000). He pitched in 41 games, starting 22 with five complete games and one save. In 159 1/3 innings, he posted 111 strikeouts and a 4.58 earned run average while playing for Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan — a man he credits as much for what he did in stressing education as what he did between the white lines.
Long before that McClellan started giving back. He started the Zach McClellan School of Pitching in Bloomington, Ind., in 2002.
Zach and future wife Sarah met at IU. She is from nearby Ellettsville, Ind., and a graduate of Edgewood High School.
During his pro off-seasons, Zach was a student teacher during the day and gave lessons at night during his off-season.
With the growth of the business, McClellan began looking for a new name and a suggestion came from one of his pupils who noted how he was constantly telling them, “Don’t just accept control, demand command.”
McClellan says the difference between control and command is that with control you can throw to a general area and command is being able to execute your pitches to the catcher.
The two main aspects of pitching as McClellan sees them are how hard you throw and can you locate it. In other words: Velocity and command.
“I try to marry those two things,” says McClellan, who notes that location becomes very important when it comes to getting good hitters out.
Believing that training should be fun and challenging, McClellan began getting his young pitchers to play H-O-R-S-E baseball style.
While in the basketball version, a player has to replicate a made shot or take a letter, McClellan’s baseball variation requires one pitcher to execute a pitch — say a fastball to the outside corner — and have the next one up replicate that or take a letter.
The first Demand Command T-shirts McClellan ever had made asked: “Can you play H-O-R-S-E on the mound?”
“It was an inside joke between the instructed kids, myself and their parents,” says McClellan. “People would ask the question about what it meant.
“We were doing something kind of unique and kids were actually executing pitches. What I’ve noticed through the years is that if they have to call the pitch, it’s even better. Now they’re not just throwing a ball in the generally vicinity.”
McClellan never wants training to be drudgery for his players.
“If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing it becomes more of a job,” says McClellan. “It’s not a job, it’s an opportunity. It’s fun. If you’re going to come to me it’s not going to feel like work.
“You have to make sure that the kids are enjoying what they’re doing, but learning at the same time.”
Since he began offering instruction, McClellan has preferred small-group lessons of three of four players.
“I say make sure kids aren’t just doing solo private lessons,” says McClellan. “A lot of parents want their kids to work one-on-one with a coach, but when they go on a field they have eight other teammates.
“At the end of the day there’s nobody behind the mound holding your hand and telling you how to correct yourself in a game. You have to have a feel on the adjustments you’re making.”
Every now and then, McClellan likes to match 17-year-old prospect with an 8-year-old learning how to pitch.
“The 17-year-old learns how to teach,” says McClellan. “The more you learn how to teach the better you get at your craft.
“(The teen is) learning how other people receive the information which makes them more receptive of the information.”
Now that he has been at it this long, another McClellan goal is coming to fruition.
“I’ve always wanted to create a community of baseball players that became future leaders,” says McClellan. “Kids that played for me or took lessons from me are now coming back to be coaches for me.”
Matt McClellan played at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., and pitched in the Toronto Blue Jays organization (Toronto selected the right-hander in the seventh round of the 1997 MLB Draft) and for the independent Newark (N.J.) Bears and Kansas City (Kan.) T-Bones.
The DC website states the mission: “Demand Command was built on the principles that baseball and softball are teaching mechanisms for more than just the games.
Baseball and Softball have many life lessons within the games. Some examples are leadership, hard work, determination, discipline, working together with many types of people, dealing with success and failure and good character.
“The goal is to teach people the value of Demand Command life principles through baseball and softball. Demand Command stands for much more than commanding pitches or at bats. Demand Command is a way of life.”
Numerous DC alums have gone on to college and pro baseball. Among them is Dylan Stutsman, who pitched at the University of Indianapolis and then pitched for the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers.
Former Texas Rangers draft pick Renton Poole is now a senior pitcher at Indiana University Kokomo.
Zach and Sarah McClellan live in Columbus and have three athletic daughters — Mia (14), Miley (12) and Emery (10).
The McClellan brothers — Jeff (46), Matt (44) and Zach (42 on Nov. 25) — are the offspring of former college athletes.
Father Dave a basketball player at the University of Michigan and Mother Diane a track and field athlete at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University.
Jeff played baseball at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.
Zach’s nephew, Sebastian McClellan, is a freshman basketball guard at Lawrence Technical University in Southfield, Mich. Niece Mallory McClellan recently signed a letter of intent to play softball at Fordham University in New York.
The two maintained a relationship and Cheek came back to town as an assistant to head coach Howard at Indiana University Kokomo. The 2021 season will be his third with the Cougars.
“I love it,” says Cheek of working with the energetic Howard. “He will push you day in and day out to be a better leader on or off the field.
“What I enjoy most about him is he gives freedom (to his assistants) as if we were in-charge. I can make the pitching program my own. There is trust my abilities.”
Cheek, 26, is not only IUK’s pitching coach but he leads the program’s academic supervision and community service and helps with camps.
At pitching coach, he looks for aggressiveness and competitiveness.
“What we strive to do is attack hitters,” says Cheek. “We recruit a lot of guys who are athletes that go out and compete. They piece it together inning by inning and put up zeros.”
Cheek wants his hurlers to trust their defense.
“We have plenty of gold glovers on the field so pound the zone,” says Cheek. “Execution is big for us.”
Knowing that not all pitchers are the same, Cheek looks to get each one to identify what makes them successful.
“Every guy is going to have different pitches and different sequences that they throw,” says Cheek, who knows some will around 90 mph with their fastball while others will have to pitch backwards, starting with a breaking ball and spotting their fastball.
“It’s about letting them know their success and know what they have to bring to the table,” says Cheek. “When they take pride int he role they have that’s where you start to see success.”
About half way through fall practice, IUK pitchers (a group that includes Ryan’s brother, Kacey Cheek) are currently in COVID-19 quarantine.
“It’s been a tough fall,” says Cheek. “It make guys see the picture of how they approach each day with an appreciation and a full passion for the game.”
That can be said of the whole squad, which includes returning college players who had their spring season cut short and incoming freshmen who had their senior high school seasons canceled.
Cheek and the other IUK coaches encourage them to respect the game but also have passion.
“Show up with a chip on their shoulder,” says Cheek. “Keep a goal in mind each day and don’t let a day pass.”
Because of the pandemic, the NAIA has granted an extra year of eligibility to those who want to use it.
Among those back to lead the Cougars are right-handed pitcher Renton Poole (at Bloomington High School South graduate who was selected in the 28th round of the 2018 Major League First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers but opted to stay in college) and infielder Austin Weiler.
While being aware of contact tracing, IUK baseball coaches work to separate players on the field and in the weight room. With pitchers away, there are a number of machine scrimmages.
“We’ll have developmental work and one-on-one work when pitchers come back,” says Cheek.
As an academic supervisor, Cheek makes sure players are keeping up their grades up. He stays in-touch with professors and sets study table hours.
“They’re coming to IUK to get an IU degree and play baseball,” says Cheek. “The goal is to get these guys to where they want to go in life.
“My goal is to make sure they’re reaching their goals in the classroom.”
IUK students are currently taking a hybrid of in-person and online classes. After Thanksgiving to the end of the semester that will be all online.
While COVID-19 regulations and protocols has limited what players can do at the moment, there was plenty of community service with local groups last fall. Cheek says that each team member did up to 25 hours in the fall while meeting Kokomo know they care.
Mitch Hannahs was the head coach and Jordan Tiegs the pitching coach at ISU.
Cheek went to youth camps run by Hannahs when the latter was coaching at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.
“He’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever played under,” says Cheek of Hannahs. “He understands the game and knows how to compete.
“He helped me grow as a player and a person.”
Tiegs, who is now a coach in the Rangers organization, had an impact on Cheek.
“He was really smart and knew how to develop guys,” says Cheek of Tiegs. “He really sparked my interest about what a routine meant and entailed — throwing everyday, arm health, your body moving correctly and competing at a high level.”
Cheek appreciates his time with Vincennes head coach Chris Barney.
“He knew the game,” says Cheek of Barney. “He was a little Old School, but I loved it.”
The term “JUCO bandit” is used in baseball circles these days. Cheek tells what it means to him.
“They are guys who are hard-nosed and a little blue collar,” says Cheek. “It was a really good fit for myself to go junior college route. I learned a lot about myself — who I am as a person and player.”
Without the time restrictions of the NCAA and NAIA, junior college players have the chance to spend plenty of time working on their craft.
“We had a fall and spring season and a lot of competition,” says Cheek. “You’d get out of class and then be at the field for six hours at a time.
“We learned what ‘no off days’ meant,” says Cheek. “You didn’t get many.”
Cheek grew up in Oblong, which is Crawford County about 20 miles from the Indiana line and Sullivan County, Indiana.
The 2012 OHS graduate played golf for coach Jason Hartke, basketball for coach Brent Harper and baseball for coach Dave Miller.
Richard and Kelly Cheek have three children — Ryan, Kacey (20) and Lincoln Trail College freshman Katie (18).
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
“We created because a lot of these guys had nowhere to play,” says Luke Dietz, director of operations for Bullpen Tournaments and acting commissioner for the College Summer League. “We also give them the option to play-and-train, too.”
The CSL is set up to have games turf fields on Mondays and Tuesdays (this week that meant one Monday and two Tuesday). Players can go through training at Pro X, located on the Grand Park Sports Campus, Wednesday through Friday.
Several players also work in various capacities at Grand Park.
“We were not planning on having a collegiate league,” says Dietz. “The way everything happened gave us a way to do it safety.
“We think this is going to be a good opportunity for us to do it for years to come. What’s great about us is that you play all your games here and you have a training schedule as well.”
The focus in the league is not to extend anyone too far.
“We’re directly in-contact with all of their coaches at their colleges,” says Dietz. “They’re setting their programs with us (at Pro X).
“(CSL coaches and trainers) know this guy is only supposed to throw 25 pitches this week. He’s not going to go past that.
“That sets us apart from other leagues.
Dietz says ‘The League” is focused on the needs of the athletes and that’s how the the idea of playing a few games plus training and earning money by working came about.
“Everything we do is for the players,” says Dietz. “It’s not about revenue or anything like that.
“We probably have 40 guys working for us to pay off the league. That’s an opportunity for them to see how we opportunity and put some money in their pocket.”
The CSL sports 261 players, which were gathered through them asking to be invited and by recruiting. Of that number, more than 120 come from NCAA Division I programs.
“It’s not just a league in Indiana,” says Dietz. “It’s a high level of competition college league for sure.”
Daylan Nanny, a Plainfield (Ind.) High School graduate who was a lefty-swinging junior outfielder/first baseman at Western Carolina University in the spring, is in the CSL.
“It’s cool to be back here playing,” says Nanny, who was a 14-year-old travel ball player with the Outlaws (now Evoshield Canes Midwest) in some of the early games at Grand Park and then went to work there. “I’ve spent a good amount of my time on the Grand Park complex. Bullpen Tournaments is a great place to work. They’re great people and I love it.”
Nanny appreciates the summer league’s format.
“This is a really good opportunity to get better,” says Nanny. “The middle of the week to the end of the week is to work on what you struggled with on Monday and Tuesday
“Use that time and get ready to come out the next week ready to play again. It’s a unique setting. If you do it right, you can get really good out of here.”
Some players are from junior colleges and others are incoming freshmen. One ballplayer came from Texas and is staying in a motor home with his father.
There are athletes staying with teammates who live in the area, some in an Air BnB with buddies and others in apartments.
“We sold it as a commuter league, trying to get all of our local guys,” says Dietz. “Especially with the uncertainty of when we were able to start the league because of everything go on in the world, we weren’t going to be able to do housing on such a short notice.”
Every team has at least two college coaches on its staff. One of those is Butler assistant Matt Kennedy.
“We want to get the guys back on the field, knock the rust off a little bit and get them reps,” says Kennedy. “We want to prepare them to go back to their institutions in the fall and be ready to play.”
There was a couple of weeks of “spring training” leading into CSL games. Players came out and took batting practice and fielded grounders. Pitchers threw bullpens.
Kennedy says he expects teams will play close to 36 games in eight weeks.
“In my opinion, that’s a good thing,” says Kennedy. “It’s not 70 games. It gives these guys enough time to play and develop and time to rest and get int he weight room as well.
“These guys have been done basically for three months. Easing them into it with this format is really good. Guys have plenty of time to recover.”
T-Ray Fletcher, who was Oakland City head coach for 26 seasons, is still the school’s athletic director.
Since taking the job a few weeks ago, Lasher been concentrating on building up his roster.
“I’ve been doing a lot of recruiting though there are no games to watch,” says Lasher, referring to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic which has live baseball shut down at the moment. “There’s been a lot of calls and text messages.”
Lasher, who is tapping into his network of contacts, says he would like to have 35 players in the fall and 40 to 45 in the future so the Mighty Oaks can add a junior varsity program.
That takes care of half the schedule. Lasher has the opportunity to fill in the rest of the games, choosing ones that are feasible and keeps players from missing too many classes.
It’s Lasher’s intent to schedule some contests in the fall.
Lasher’s assistants are Jacob Bedwell and Austen Bullington. Washington (Ind.) High School graduate Bedwell was on the OCU team last year. Castle grad Bullington played at Wabash Valley College and the University of Tennessee-Martin.
Lasher was hired by Southern Indianalast summer and spent much of his time assisting Screaming Eagles head coach Tracy Achuleta with hitters and position players.
“I also kept track of academic progress and a lot of little things that don’t happen on the baseball field,” says Lasher. “That’s a much bigger percentage of the job than people realize.
“At the college level, it’s a lot more than the bats and balls. It’s a full-time job for a reason.
“(Archuleta) is one of my favorite people. He’s alot of fun to be around and a really good baseball mind. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
He was an assistant to Dennis Conley at Olney Central from the 2014 season until the fall of 2018.
“It was a really good experience I wouldn’t trade for the world,” says Lasher, who helped the Blue Knights win 173 games in five seasons.
An outfielder, Lasher played two seasons at Olney (2010 and 2011) for Conley and two at Evansville (2012 and 2013) for Wes Carroll.
Going to Castle, Lasher had heard all about alums Wes and brother Jamey Carroll (who played in the big leagues).
“(Wes Carroll) was a real good player’s coach,” says Lasher. “We had some good teams.”
The Purple Aces won 56 games in Lasher’s two seasons at UE. He played with five players — left-handed pitcher Kyle Freeland (Colorado Rockies), lefty-swinging outfielder Kevin Kaczmarski (New York Mets), righty-batting Eric Stamets (Rockies), righty pitcher Kyle Lloyd (San Diego Padres) and lefty hurler Phillip Diehl (Rockies) — who eventually made it to the majors.
For five summers, Lasher was with the Bombers — 2014 as an assistant coach and 2015-18 as manager.
Lefty-hitting outfielder Johnson is now on the Cleveland Indians’ 40-man roster.
Brown is a catcher in the Atlanta Braves organization.
Lasher calls shortstop Gonzales, who was the 2019 NCAA Division I batting champion, the best player he’s ever coached and expects him to be taken about the top picks in the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
The atmosphere created by Dubois County ownership and fans at League Stadium made Lasher’s time with the Bombers very enjoyable.
“It’s a great place to watch a game,” says Lasher. “It’s a shame they’re not getting to do it this summer (due to COVID-19 causing cancelation of the Ohio Valley League season).”
Lasher graduated in 2009 from Castle, where he played for Curt Welch.
“He was very intense,” says Lasher of Welch, who has also been an assistant wrestling coach for the Knights. “We were probably in better shape physically as any team in the country.”
There was plenty of running and ab workouts.
“It was worth it,” says Welch. “No doubt about it. It got guys ready for the college stuff. You have to be mentally tough and physically in shape in college or you just aren’t going to make it.”
Besides head baseball coach, Lasher is also in charge of maintaining Oakland City athletic fields and is gameday coordinator for any on-campus sporting events. The Mighty Oaks sponsor teams in basketball, cross country, golf, soccer and tennis for men and women and softball and volleyball for women.
Lasher and girlfriend, former Orleans (Ind.) High School, Olney Central and Brescia University basketball player Shelbi Samsil, recently moved to the north side of Indianapolis to be closer to Oakland City.
Andy Lasher is the new head baseball coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University. He is a graduate of Castle High School in Newburgh, Ind., and played at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the University of Evansville. He has coached at Olney, Eastern Illinois University, the University of Southern Indiana and with the summer collegiate Dubois County Bombers. (Oakland City University Photo)
Confidence and self-assurance was valued by Jason Van Skike as a baseball player and are traits emphasized by him as a coach.
“Baseball is a great teacher of things that happen in your life,” says Van Skike, the second-year pitching coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School. “You focus on the things you can control. There are three things we talk about everyday — work ethic, attitude and confidence.
“You can’t make up for a lost day,” says Van Skike. “You want to always go to bed at night knowing you put in your best effort.”
That’s work ethic.
“You have a choice to have a good attitude or a bad attitude,” says Van Skike. “It’s a mindset. It’s an opportunity to get better.
“If you believe good things are going to happen, good things tend to happen. If you believe bad things are going to happen, bad things tend to happen.”
“My job is to make sure (Westfield pitchers) feel that they are the absolute man,” says Van Skike. “That’s all do-able if they’ve done the things they need to do on the days leading to (the game appearance).”
Rick Heller, who is now head coach at the University of Iowa, was ISU head coach when Van Skike was in Terre Haute. Heller had him join the Sycamores after seeing the righty at a sophomore showcase while he was at Treasure Valley.
“(Heller) would preach ‘chest out; a lot of confidence,’” says Van Skike. “I would hear that all the time. I found out that body language plays into the game. If you can trick yourself into thinking you’re the man, you might be the man.
“(Heller) was always talking about body language and confidence.”
Van Skike says it was not until the end of his college career that this lesson really began to sink in.
“I was an excuse maker,” says Van Skike. “If I walked a guy, it wasn’t my fault.”
“(Herbst) made me feel comfortable,” says Van Skike. “He didn’t try to change too much of what I was.”
Herbst went on to help steer Sean Manaea, who is now in the majors.
“He was a baby giraffe at Indiana State and didn’t know how to pitch,” says Van Skike of Manaea.
Van Skike had come a long way by the time he pitched for the Sycamores.
He entered Gig Harbor, he was 5-foot-5 and maybe 135 pounds. He didn’t make the varsity squad until he was a senior.
“They kept me around since I had a sense of urgency,” says Van Skike, who played for Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pete Jansen. “I ran on and off the field. I needed to in order to stand out.”
By the time he was a senior, he had began to fill out and stood 6-3.
He went to Treasure Valley, where Rick Baumann was head coach, with a fastball clocked at 78-82 mph. That’s when he began showing up an hour early for practice every day to do a towel drill. By the end of the fall, he was up to 84 mph. During indoor workouts, he was sitting at 83-86. On a nice day, the team went outside and he was at 88-91 and he was able to sustain that speed.
“I made a 10 mph jump in a four- to five-month span,” says Van Skike. “I needed those extra reps.”
Extra reps is what Van Skike got in junior college, where there is less restriction on the amount of times players and coaches can spend working on the game.
“I loved every moment of it,” says Van Skike of the juco diamond life. “You spend so many hours with your teammates and coaches. You build that brotherhood. Reflecting back, junior college baseball was the most fun for me.”
Van Skike sings the praises of junior college because it also offers a chance to develop. A juco player might get 60 at-bats in the fall between games and scrimmages and around 200 more in the spring. By the end of their sophomore year, they’ve gotten almost 500 at-bats and that doesn’t count summer ball.
Van Skike says a D-I player who does not crack the lineup as a freshman and sophomore — which is often the case — might go into their junior year with less than 100 career at-bats.
“You’ve got to play,” says Van Skike. “You’ve got to get game experience.”
Van Skike left college in 2011 unsure of his baseball future. Scout Mike Shirley (now amateur scouting director) brought him to Madison County for a workout and signed him to a White Sox contract as an undrafted free agent. He hustled to Bristol, Va., of the Appalachian League and picked up an extra-inning victory in his first outing.
His pitching coach at Bristol was Larry Owens, now head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville.
“(Owens) simplified the game for me,” says Van Skike.
Through 2013, Van Skike appeared in 73 games (64 as a reliever) and went 10-8 with a 3.18 earned run average in 150 2/3 innings. He was 3-5 with a 2.80 ERA in 74 innings at Advanced Class-A Winston-Salem in 2013.
“(Winston-Salem pitching coach) J.R. Perdew was a tremendous help,” says Van Skike. “He told me things I had never thought about before.
“The more simple you can keep baseball the better off you’re going to be.”
Perdew is now the White Sox assistant pitching coordinator.
Van Skike learned to use a cut fastball to be effective against left-handed hitters.
He had a six-month lease on an apartment in St. Louis and expected to be in spring training in 2014 when he was released by the White Sox. He went to live with his parents — Ike and Cathy Van Skike — in Arizona and got a job delivering pizzas. Not having a steady catch partner, he threw into a chain link fence. Occasionally, he would work out with a high school team and they had no trouble hitting his deliveries.
Still, an invitation was extended in Wichita. Even though he did not have a stellar spring training with the Wingnuts, he had enough of a resume on affiliated ball to keep him. The 2014 season saw him start 26 games and got 12-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 110 innings. He started the American Association All-Star Game and helped Wichita win the league title.
It tended to be very breezy out to left field in Wichita. Van Skike used it to his advantage.
“A lot of hitters get big egos when the wind blows,” says Van Skike. “I made my living down and away (to right-handed hitters) and got roll-overs to the shortstop.”
The 2015 campaign was not as successful (7-8, 4.89 in 116 innings) and Van Skike retired as a player.
“Getting into college coaching is extremely difficult,” says Van Skike. He went with friend Arlo Evasick, the head coach at Federal Way and the Eagles qualified for the 2016 state tournament.
That summer, Van Skike ended up back in Indiana on the coaching staff of Jackrabbits manager Matt Howard, who is now head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo.
Van Skike was starting to prepare for a chance to play pro ball in Australia when Heller let him know about an opportunity in Des Moines.
“I got extremely lucky,” says Van Skike.
David Pearson was hired as DMACC head coach and soon hired Van Skike as an assistant. The two had to dismantle the roster after the first season and went into the second year (2018) with mostly freshmen.
Near the end of that season, Van Skike began to examine his relationship with baseball.
“It consumed my life and I missed a lot of family events (as a player),” says Van Skike. “I began missing those again as a college coach.
“I need more of a balance. I didn’t know what that was at the time.”
Through a fortunate sequence of events, Van Skike moved to central Indiana and wound up taking a job as an Edward Jones financial advisor in Westfield.
He was at the right place at the right time since Westfield High School head coach Ryan Bunnell was also looking to fill a slot for a pitching coach.
“I’m still heavily involved with baseball and I can still be around my family and friends,” says Van Skike. “That’s what I was searching for.
“I’m extremely lucky I’m at Westfield.”
The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic took away the 2020 season.
“We had an extremely talented group,” says Van Skike of a Shamrocks team that received votes in the Class 4A preseason poll. “We could’ve won state. But there’s nothing we can do to control it.
“It’s an awkward time for these seniors,” says Van Skike. “They almost don’t want to hear about baseball.
“It’s still a little tender.
“We’ve been talking with juniors and saying let’s do it next year for these seniors (in 2021). They shouldn’t complain one day. Don’t ever take things for granted.”
Jason Van Skike is a financial advisor at Edwards Jones and the pitching coach at Westfield High School, both in Westfield, Ind. The graduate of Gig Harbor High School in Washington pitched at Treasure Valley Community College Oregon and Indiana State University as well as in the Chicago White Sox organization and in independent professional baseball. (Edwards Jones Photo)
Westfield (Ind.) High School varsity baseball coaches in 2020 include (from left): assistant Bill Lindley, head coach Ryan Bunnell and assistant Jason Van Skike. Shamrocks pitchers are led by Van Skike, who played collegiately at Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon and Indiana State University and professionally in the Chicago White Sox system and with the independent Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts. (Westfield High School Photo)
Ben Davis: Jose Guzman — Pitcher, University of Cincinnati; Kameron Kelly — First Base, Undecided.
Brebeuf Jesuit: Shane Bauer — Pitcher/First Base, Dartmouth College; Karl Meyer — Right Field, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Andrew Pickett — Shortstop, Hope College; Gabe Wright — Center Field, Undecided.
Decatur Central: Timmy Casteel — Third Base, Undecided; Brayden Hazelwood — Shortstop, Indiana University Southeast; Jared Thompson — Pitcher/Center Field, Undecided.
Franklin Central: Austin Carr — Second Base, Grace College; Matt Hall — Pitcher, Ashland University; Corey Jeanor — Shortstop, Ashland University; Austin Snider — Outfield, Manchester University.
Indianapolis North Central: Carter Bailey — Infielder, Undecided; Zach Gessner — Infielder/Pitcher, Undecided; Brendon Gibson — Outfielder, Indiana University Southeast; Joseph Rangel — First Base/Designated Hitter, Undecided.
Lawrence Central: Anthony Steinhardt — Center Field/Pitcher, University of Dayton.
Lawrence North: Ethan Butterfield — Pitcher, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; Marcus Goodpaster — First Base/Pitcher, Undecided; Ty Johnson — Pitcher, Ball State University; Nick Taylor — Left Field/Pitcher, Purdue University.
Park Tudor: Ian Krull — First/Third Base, St. John’s University; Ben Rankin — Pitcher/Right Field, Purdue University.
Perry Meridian: Bayley Arnold — Pitcher, Earlham College; Isaac Jones — Second Base, Undecided; Luciano Salemi — Centerfield, Lake Erie College; Conner Woods — Catcher, North Park University.
Pike: Cameron Powell — First Base, Earlham College; Reggie Thornton — Center Field, Indiana State University.
Roncalli: Will Schoettle — Pitcher, Undecided; Alex Stroud — First Base, Asbury University.
Southport: Kyven Carter — Pitcher, First base, Undecided; Ryan Lezon — Pitcher/Shortstop, Ball State University.
Warren Central: Justin Alexander — Pitcher/Designated Hitter/Outfield, Seminole State College (Fla.); Cameron Booker — Pitcher, Muskegon Community College; Christian W. Jones — Pitcher/First/Third Base, Indiana Tech.